The Office Cat
20 June 2017
The film was directed by Sabina Krayenbühl and Zeva Oelbaum and produced by Zeva Oelbaum who reported to Executive Producers Denise Benmosche, Elizabeth Chandler, Ashley Garrett, Ruedi Gerber, Alan Jones, Thelma Schoonmaker and Tilda Swinton (who also played the voice of Gertrude Bell). Zeva Oelbaum was also helped by three co-producers—Mia Bays, Fabrice Esteve, and Christian Popp—and four Consulting Producers—Kevin Brownlow, Tracie Holder, Andrea Miller and Carla Solomon. Zeva Oelbaum had an Associate Producer Rob Quaintance and a Line Producer Serena Nutting, no doubt to keep the other sixteen Cos, Executives, Consultings and Associate in line. No one was credited as being responsible for Film Research (though ‘Insurance Broker’ and ‘Legal Services’ both got a mention) and that gave my inventiveness carte blanche.
I couldn’t help noticing that all the principals in this fascinating story—about how Gertrude Bell single-handedly invented Irak (If I’ve got things right) in the period immediately following the First World War—are now dead and buried, so I thought I’d produce a set of alternative facts and bring them back to life, so we could actually experience Lawrence of Arabia, Vita Sackville West, Winston Churchill and Gertrude Bell, uttering words attributed to them. Of course, I had to pretty them up a bit so as to be presentable for a family audience.
I then turned my attention to my day job, and discovered the Cinématographe was not developed in the 1890s but at least as early as 1865, and found a close-up of the hands of the young Gertrude Bell playing the piano. She evidently didn’t like it much and wrote her mother so in no uncertain terms. I’m sure that I too would have been annoyed by the presence a camera crew and its lights getting in the way of my practising scales.
When Gertrude Bell went to Oxford I found some grand street scenes of the city and its undergraduates in 1886. My register of alternative facts tell me this was long after Donald Trump’s grandfather had sealed a deal with the Lumière brothers to develop their Cinématographe. Even so, pushing the development of Motion Pictures back 30 years is no mean feat, even though it won’t by itself Make America Great.
*Letters From Baghdad was nominated for, and won, in the category for Best Use of Footage in a History Feature at the Focal International Awards 2017.
For readers of the IAMHIST Blog who have yet to meet the Office Cat (who writes regularly for the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television), you’ll find it a ‘ferocious yet felicitous feline who has assisted in aiding and abetting slovenly television producers and directors since it first saw light in the pages of the History Workshop Journal’. (HJFRT, Vol. 5, No. 2, June 2016: 339). Born in 1976, the Office Cat is no ordinary cat, but a film researcher. It might be fluffy, but unlike human film researchers, for whom it has the greatest respect, never takes ‘no’ for an answer. It specializes in finding film footage that no other film archivist, historian, critic, or other researcher has found before. The Office Cat finds film footage that doesn’t exist or does exist, but not in the ways that film producers or directors would like it to. For example, the Office Cat’s ancestors found footage of the Wright brothers’ first flight, another found footage of the Battle of Jutland. One even unearthed shots of Adolf Hitler marrying Eva Braun in the Führerbunker…
Jerry Kuehl is an independent television producer whose principal but not exclusive interest is visual history. His first grown-up job in television was as a historical advisor to the 26-part 1964 BBC production, The Great War, he was then an associate producer of The World at War, the 26-part series made by Thames Television in the 1970s which set new standards for accuracy and authenticity in the use of film archives. He was the Head of General Studies at the National Film School from 1979 to 1981. In the 1980s, he was a director of Open Media whose productions included After Dark. In the 1990s, he was a writer and consultant to the 24-part CNN production, The Cold War. In 1991, he wrote and co-produced the 4-part La Grande Aventure de la Presse Filmée (English title: The Great Adventure of Newsreels) for France 3. He is responsible for Kuehl’s Reels, a programme series for YouTube which punctures the pretensions of those who misdescribe films sent to the site. He is also responsible for the Office Cat who skewers irresponsible producers and directors in both the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television and the IAMHIST Blog. He is the recipient of a lifetime achievement award from FOCAL, the Federation of Commercial Audiovisual Libraries.